Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families

By Andrew J Thompson

Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh joins Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Illinois Sen. Roland Burris in sponsoring the Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act of 2009.  A similar bill is being introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Danny Davis – IL.

On the one hand, Sen. Bayh deserves commendation for his leadership on the issue, helping to bring national attention and focusing on the importance of children knowing and spending time with their fathers.  As a successor to his own father as a US Senator from Indiana, Sen. Bayh is well aware of the value and importance of a father’s involvement in his children’s lives. 

By consistently elevating this message into the public forum, Sen. Bayh does a great service to American families.  He has followed the lead of an earlier Indiana Sen., former Vice President Dan Quayle, in keeping the discussion alive concerning the importance of fathers’ roles in their children’s upbringing. 

The bill also has some provisions that will be very helpful in reducing some of the inefficiencies incurred by the government’s intervention with poor families, and helping to put more money directly into the pockets of needy families, particularly those in two parent households – a model we should encourage and foster.

Unfortunately, however, if the goal is to help increase the involvement of fathers in their children’s lives, it badly misses the mark in most of its provisions, and may in fact help extend the continuing assault on fathers’ ability to act as parents in their children’s lives.

While both federal and state legislation are badly needed, key provisions of any legislation should address the following:

Equality in Parenting: while parents’ roles will always differ, both parents matter deeply to every child, and on the whole, their roles should be valued equally and with an equality of balance. When parents separate, divorce, and act as single parents, each parent should be responsible for roughly equal shares of financial and parenting time responsibilities.  This equality should be recognized under the law.  The father who is willing to bear his share of each of these responsibilities should be honored and acknowledged, and his role and time with the children should not be inhibited by the family courts.

Support Enforcement: while covering a relatively equal share of his children’s financial support is part and parcel to fatherhood and will always be expected of fathers, current child support standards are far too onerous and unfairly burdensome to fathers.  The federal government plays a role in support regulation today and productive reforms can be made in the law as follows:

  1. Repeal the Bradley Amendment: Fathers who have been alienated from their children, perhaps have not seen them for 5,10 or 20 years, should not be forced to pay support to the mother.  The Bradley Amendment has created a situation where we have billions of dollars of uncollectible child support over the past 20 years, and it is time for its repeal.
  2. Title IV-D Funding: Under current law, states are rewarded with federal funds based on the amount of support they collect.  This creates an incentive in the system to create unreasonably high support guidelines and calculations, set inappropriately high support awards, and deploy draconian enforcement methods that force many, good fathers to live in poverty or near poverty conditions.  States should receive federal funding focusing directly and solely on those cases where collection is achievable (actual resources are shown to be available), and there is a history of continuing dereliction and lack of cooperation on the part of the parent obligated for support.
  3. Imputation of Income: Not even the IRS can arbitrarily impute an income against which it may levy charges, yet nearly every state permits this practice in determining the amount of support a father will have to pay.  This practice defies the principles underlying many of our Constitutional rights.  No state should be allowed to receive any federal funding as long as it allows for this practice. 
  4. Sanctions/Imprisonment:  There are many jurisdictions nationally where more than 10% of the prison/jail population is made up of fathers who are unable to pay support.  This runs contrary to the purpose of the laws themselves, as it prevents from earning the income necessary to do what the law is expecting of him.  The law should prohibit any parent who is willing to work and pay support from being jailed for non-payment of support, and parents responsible for support should be given a preference  in professional and other licensing that may be necessary in order to earn the income to pay support.
  5. Garnishments: While other creditors are limited to garnishing 25% of an individual’s income, child support agencies can collect up to 65% – 65% of a low or mid-income wage, leaves the person completely unable to meet any other obligations, even the most basic.  Garnishments for support should be limited to 25%, consistent with otehr creditors. 

Domestic Violence Issues: domestic violence is a very serious crime and should always be treated as such.  Allegations of domestic violence should result in appropriate protection for the victim with appropriate sanctions.  Children should not suffer alienation from a parent, they should not be punished for the actions of the parent. 

Often the consequence of charges of domestic violence are the complete alienation of parent and child, financial costs that cannot or will not be paid nor recovered, and this often results from minimal, sometimes even ex parte hearings, with no jury and a standard of proof that requires nothing more, in most cases, than the suggestion of fear on the part of the accuser.

Even where a Temporary Restraining Order is an appropriate remedy, it should not be allowed to be used as a tool for the future alienation of fathers and children.  The point of the law is to help preserve the bond between children and their fathers and the law should be designed to promote these relationships. 

If there is any temporary period of separation between a child and parent, the law should require both parents to participate in a process of restoration and reconciliation of the parental relationship.  A father cannot be responsible if he is to be excluded from the family mix.

These changes will make the law better, stronger and more effective in accomplishing the goal of healthy families with responsible fathers. 

Andrew J Thompson is an attorney practicing in Indiana.  Please visit Thompson Legal Services today for any assistance you need with family law related matters.

Show the Court Your Plan: Parenting Plans in Custody Cases

I’m often asked to jump into a case because a noncustodial parent isn’t happy with how his/her present attorney is handling their case.  To these parents, this is life itself.  They aren’t seeing their children as much as they know they should, and they want it fixed now. To the attorney, it’s another sad or difficult case, and they often feel they are doing everything they can.

It’s hard to comment on the work of another professional in the middle of the battle. They are dealing with facts you don’t know, and they have their own skills and experience, just as you do.

I can comment on two things, though: (1) where I’m coming from myself as an advocate; and (2) how it contrasts with most good, local family law attorneys.

I’m a single parent myself. I have three beautiful daughters I’ve fought for continuously over the last six years. It’s why I do what I do now.

I’ve been through this. It taught me a few important lessons: as the parent, it’s you who has to engage the battle every day. You have to be willing to do extraordinary things, including having patience, but never giving up the fight. You have to truly walk the high road, higher than anyone will consider giving you credit for.

But you also need an advocate who sees a different end result than most do.

Typically attorneys get locked into a set of assumptions about the outcome of cases. It is very typical for an attorney to assume a long term outcome, i.e. one parent gets custody, the other parent gets some visitation. Unfortunately, the assumed outcome rarely works as conceived.

The problem is, non-custodial parents don’t have much control over the situation. The custodial parent can withhold that visitation, and unless the court will enforce your time with the children, it’s at the other parent’s discretion. And unless you have an attorney who will fight for that time, the court won’t enforce it.

Whatever you do, you need to lay out a plan for the court, ideally that creates a process to get you to joint (50-50), physical custody – or better put, equal parenting time. You cannot necessarily control the timetable – there are many factors that play into it – but the bottom line is you need a process, a plan, and you should continually be making progress toward equal parenting. Once you have equal parenting, then you show you are the parent who follows the schedule, cooperates, abides the court order. Let the other parent fight, disobey the order, and cause the problems – and document it. Ultimately, that is how you “get your kids back”, i.e. get custody of your kids.

It doesn’t matter who the attorney is, but this process needs to underly the strategy for representing any noncustodial parent. Any other strategy assumes that you do not have equal rights as a parent, nor that your children have the right to the full and equal affection of both parents. The goal should always be to give the kids the full and equal attention of each parent. Then you, the parents become accountable for giving that to them. If the court will recognixe your rights, it is up to you to fully exercise them.

But until the court recognizes this, and until a lawyer will advocate for it, you may be locked out with no ability to give that to your kids.

There is no hustle here. If an attorney will lay this out for you and help you achieve it, great. There is no magic to this, it only takes the understanding of why it’s the right way to proceed and the work ethic to pursue it.

I decided to return to the practice of law and help in these kinds of situations, because most other attorneys just won’t. Truly, there aren’t a handful of attorneys in the country who will go to the trouble of laying a co-parenting plan before the court, and then working it. It upsets a system they have been working with for five, ten, 20, 30 years. Often they are afraid a judge will start ruling against them because suggest something out of the mainstream.

Full and equal parenting, like any other right, like any other responsibility, is something that has to be fought for. It won’t come without vigilance, diligence, persistence, patience – all of the virtues that have made each of the freedoms we enjoy so valuable.

But it also won’t come without effective advocacy.  Contact the Thompson Law Office  today if we can assist you.

A Father’s Battle: Divorce, Custody, Child Support and More

If you’re divorced, going through a divorce, separating or facing the break up of your family, as a father and leader of your family, you need to act swiftly and wisely.  The challenges you will face are greater and more difficult than almost any other challenge you are likely to face in your life.

While much of what happens is outside your control, there are a few key actions that will direct you on a path toward a successful outcome that is otherwise very unlikely.   The primary action steps you need to follow are:

Accept the Reality of the Situation: First, this means that if your wife has decided to leave, you cannot bring her back.  Winning her back may be possible, but it’s an extreme long shot, and the risk is great that you will lose your children, your career, and your savings as you try.  In fact, you may dig your self in a deeper hole with her as whatever measure of respect she may have left for you may disappear as she observes you chasing after futility.  More than likely – she just doesn’t care, and nothing is going to change her mind.

The other part of the reality you need to accept is how badly the deck is stacked against you as a man.  Men have primary custody of their children in only 10-15% of divorce situations.  In most of these, the woman has conceded custody or is guilty of a crime.  It will take every bit of commitment to your children, emotional energy and financial resources you can muster in order to come close to achieving a balance of time with your children, or manageable limits on child support.  These are the points you need to keep in mind.

When She Fires Her First Shot:

The vast majority of divorces are filed by women.  Though correlation does not prove cause and effect, there is a close correlation between filing for divorce and obtaining custody of children.

No, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s smart to race to the courthouse to be the one who files, but when your wife is showing signs of wanting out of a marriage, it’s wise to be prepared.  You may want to save your marriage, and be willing to stay in as long as she is, but once she has filed, everything is changed for good.

Assess what is taking place: Some men make the mistake of not taking this all seriously, or at face value.  It is what it is.  Read the divorce petition, it lays out what she can and will try to prove to make her case and get the results she is seeking.

Custody: First Things First

If children are involved, custody is the grand prize in the conflict.  This may sound cynical or even disgusting to you, but it is very true.  She is likely to fight in every way she can to gain custody and to minimize your role as a parent, so that she has both control over them, and the family’s future financial resources.

This may also be hard to believe, especially given that she probably held you up as a model father while you were together.  But all this changes when she files for divorce.  In winning the battle over custody, she will achieve two goals that are probably foremost in her thinking: she will feel validated as a mother, and she will receive child support.

While you make think the first of these goals is unnecessary and perhaps silly, don’t discount how much stock she may place in gaining this sense of validation.  Psychologically it may drive every move she makes.

With respect to child support, it may be obvious that for most divorcing mothers, this is very important, but here again, it is crucial for you to understand how child support issues often generate extraordinary conflict on many different levels throughout the years following a divorce.  In fact, it is almost as if child support will force couples to continue waging battles that began long before they divorced.

The system is punitive toward men and needs to be changed.  But right now, you have to deal with the system that exists, so what do you do.

Child Support

Because the calculation of the amount of support you pay is highly elastic, i.e. variable, the work your attorney does in this area is extremely important to you.  Men have come away from a divorce ordered to pay substantially more in support than their overall gross income, while others walk away from the courtroom owing only a small fraction of their income with ample resources to pay what is ordered.

Also, do not forget that the amount of time you have to spend with your children, and do in fact spend with them, will greatly affect the calculation of child support [in all but a few states].   Thus, the litigation over custody, and then over parenting time, are often blown out of proportion especially by women seeking to live off their ex-husband’s earnings.

After observing hundreds of cases in many different jurisdictions, it is my observation that  many women are motivated to file domestic violence allegations in order to use the court system to enable them to live off their ex-husband’s earnings.

Domestic Violence and Restraining Orders

Criminal allegations of domestic violence are very serious and should be dealt with in the legal system with the seriousness they warrant.  That is why they are conducted before a duly empaneled jury, with rights of cross examination of the accusers and other appropriate Constitutional protections in place.  Serious allegations should be met with serious and sober deliberation.

Unfortunately, the vast, vast majority of domestic violence claims are handled in a much different manner.   Family court is considered a court of equity, with no jury, not even when the claims presented to the court allege dramatically violent behavior.  Often they are conducted ex parte, with only the petitioning party present for the hearing, at least when the remedy that is being sought is a temporary restraining order.

Once that order is issued, even if Dad had no chance to argue his case, the custody battle is over.  Thanks to Joe Biden’s legislation known as the Violence Against Women Act, most jurisdictions now make it almost impossible for a father to gain custody of his minor children once a restraining order has been issued following a domestic violence complaint made by a woman.

Granted, few, if any, jurisdictions expressly forbid men from gaining custody, but nearly all consider “a history of domestic violence” as a factor in custody determinations, and that history is most often established by the restraining order stemming from her request – even if all of her allegations were later disproven.

This helps explain the extreme slope in the uneven playing field.

But as a father, a man, and the leader of your family, you should maintain your focus on the big picture nonetheless.  There are ways of faring well in this process and having a the right attorney to help you is a key to your success.

You need someone who truly understands the stakes, has a willingness to fight for the truth to be heard and a fair adjudication of the facts – even in the face of  persistent and constant put downs toward you and your case.  And be sure, these put downs will come your way.

The Thompson Law Office is experienced in handling challenging custody matters of all varieties.  Please contact attorney, Andrew J Thompson today for a consultation regarding the facts of your own situation.


The Civil Rights of Fathers and Children

Is Parenting A Civil Rights Issue?
by Andrew J Thompson

Very few family law attorneys, and perhaps fewer local courts in America treat parenting matters as a civil rights issue. I have had many priatitioners inform me that civil rights or Constitutional issues just don’t come into play with respect to divorce, custody or child support matters. This seems rather strange given that the United States Supreme Court itself has recognized parenting as a fundamental right, Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000).

Given the Supreme Court’s disposition, the importance of parenting in general, and the long, deep American tradition of looking upon family as a focal point of our our values and life activities, it should follow that parental rights would be treasured at all levels of society. So why isn’t that the case?

Let’s walk through some possible answers, the problems these present, and some solutions that can help ensure that these rights will be protected at every level of government in a meaningful and productive way.

First, the nature of the relationship between family and the broader society necessarily means that the government and the courts have traditionally been limited in how much protection they can offer to an individual household. This has changed considerably in the last generation, however.

In fact, if anything, rather than the government protecting the family as a unit, in the past generation, there has been more and more intervention from child protective services, local police units, foster parenting agencies, etc. in ways that override one or both parents’ authority within their own home.

Regardless, however, courts often perceive that they are helpless to look behind closed doors and tell what is really happening within a family. They can’t or won’t enforce rights except on matters which occur out in the open – whether these rights are fundamental or not.

Second, there is a similar perception that the enforcement of rights within a family means the protection of women and children, which in turn means protection from a father. That being the case, parenting itself is in no way treated as a civil rights issue, though perhaps women’s rights are being protected on multiple levels in multiple ways.

This results in a bifurcation of the protection of the rights of a woman that is not widely understood. While she maintains a high level of government protection from undesired advances from her husband or boyfriend, she maintains little if any protection from the government itself with respect to her relationship with her children.

Constitutionally, men and women are guaranteed equal protection as to each other, and higher protection as adults than children, with all individual’s protected from intrusion by the government. In an unwritten fashion, however, the law prefers women over men, children over women, and governmental agencies over all. Thus in practice, the government operates nearly in reverse of what the Constitution intended.

Finally then, we approach the crux of the problem. But there is one additional element that needs to be considered – the way local systems of government operate, including their inter-relationship with state and federal levels of government. Local systems lend themselves to corruption via the limited resources that exist for holding them accountable. As people are elected or appointed by their friends within the community, it’s likely there is little opposition at a level that would challenge their credibility or actions. Hence, local officials often are able to ignore significant conflicts of interest that may sway them to handle a matter in a manner that is unbalanced or biased.

But these conflicts exist vertically, through the state and federal government, as well as through the networks of local relationships an official has. This is due to the need for funding to keep these government employees working. That funding typically comes from beyond the local tax base. It is paid for either by the state, or in the case of the collection of child support, about 40% has been paid by the federal government with matching funds. The matching funds were suspended in December 2007, but can be expected to be revived in 2009.

Given the influence presented by these conflicts, it should not be surprising how easily local courts choose to overlook a parent’s Constitutional rights. But is this wrong? Should parenting be treated as a civil rights issue? If so, how?

It’s one thing to note that the Supreme Court’s recognition of parenting as a civil, Constitutional right. It’s another to assert how it should be recognized within the communities in which we live. When it comes to divorce, custody and the rights of parents in relation to their time and the raising of their children, we need to first come to grips with how common it is for children to be raised in single parent households and how regularly father’s are excluded or limited in their role as a parent in these cases.

“The vast majority–84 percent–of custodial parents are mothers, and courts awarded child support to 61 percent of them, compared to 36 percent of custodial fathers, according to 2005 census data. Failure to pay [child support, however,] cuts across gender lines, and less than half of all non-custodial parents met their full obligations.” Child Support Revenues Jump in Obama’s Home State, 08/21/08 By Claire Bushey.

Numerous sources are available to demonstrate that it is the interference by a custodial mother that is most likely to inhibit the time and relationship between a father and his own children, for example: Psychological and Structural Factors Contributing to Disengagement of Noncustodial Fathers After Divorce .

In itself, this raises extraordinary problems for the psychological well-being of the children of divorce. But a significant part of the problem can be resolved by taking away the leverage one parent has to disenfranchise the other from the children’s lives by balancing the power that is left in the hands of both parents regarding the children.

This possibility is regularly set aside in order to protect a mother’s financial support from the father, because courts claim to be ill equipped to resolve differences between parties acting with equal authority, and because it is assumed that the father will ultimately yield to the mother in matters of parenting.

But all three of these assertions bring to light the importance of recognizing and enforcing the protection of a father’s fundamental rights as a parent. Constitutional protections are needed most precisely in cases when cultural stereotypes and assumptions are employed to inhibit an individual’s access to justice – and that is what occurs whenever a father is treated unequally with a mother of the same children.

Until we reach a point where as many families have the father as the custodial parent as the mother, father’s need to be treated with special care and their rights carefully preserved in the courts and administrative offices that govern parenting time and child support.

More attorneys are needed who will stand up for the children, families and fathers that are discriminated against by a system that enables the disenfranchisement of one or both of a child’s parents. If you have a matter that demands this kind of attention, please visit my website, ThompsonLaw-IN.com and contact my office today.

What is a Deadbeat Dad?

By Andrew J Thompson, J.D.

Since the great debate over welfare reform in the mid-1990s, the phrase “deadbeat dad” has been woven into the fabric of our vernacular like one of so many generational patch-phrases holding together a pair of well-worn blue jeans.

You cannot read newspapers, watch TV, or listen to radio news for very long without encountering this phrase, and it is not likely there are many conversations in a crowded beauty salon that pass without this label being pasted on some man, who happens to have fathered the child of some woman, who is quite unhappy with this man and his actions relating to the child – or children. In May 2009 alone, there were over 60,000 google searches that included the phrase “deadbeat dad” or “deadbeat dads”.

It is difficult to find the precise origins of the phrase, but my first recollection of hearing this phrase was in the early 90’s with Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton duking it out over whose leadership would bring about the harshest punishment against those who would bear this label. Governors in several Midwestern states, where the recession of that time had taken an enormous toll, were elected on the promise of making these men pay for their own children’s upbringing, and ending the welfare system that was so costly at the time, and so hurtful to our overall economic productivity.

An image was created of a man using food stamps to buy beer and cigarettes and never working, while living in his girlfriend’s apartment, which was paid through taxpayer funded welfare checks because she had borne children out of wedlock – with him, or perhaps another man. The welfare system was wrong and needed to be corrected. But what these women needed was a system that ended incentives for bad choices on her part as well as a father’s part, not just on his. She was just as much of a deadbeat as was he. In fact, perhaps more – as it was she who collected the welfare check – men were never allowed to do this.

One force behind welfare reform was to try to force fathers to support mothers and children instead of the government. A man who didn’t support his children was considered a deadbeat in times past – especially if he consumed liquor, stayed away from home, was unfaithful to his wife, etc. But the phrase had never before been directed at men who loved their own children more than life itself, but through no choice of their own, couldn’t be involved in their kids’ lives and/or were unable to support them financially.

This all changed with the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. Combined with the provisions of the Violence Against Women Act, and earlier impositions of the federal government relating to the enforcement of child support, such as the Bradley Amendment, which mandates that a child-support debt cannot be retroactively reduced or forgiven even if it is subsequently proven that the debtor could not have been the father.

So what is a deadbeat dad? Is that a reference to nonpayment of child support? If so, the fathers who do not owe support but do far less for their own children are exempt. Does it mean he voluntarily fails to pay that support, or does it include men that cannot pay through no fault of their own? But how can anyone be sure of the difference between these? Often mothers come to court and ask a court to impute income to a man that he does nto actually have – and to order him to pay support based on the speculative income. If he can’t pay that, does that make him a deadbeat?

In my research for this article, I found in searching facebook groups and other internet communities that the most common bond, or reference to “deadbeat dads” was from women complaining of fathers who did not see their children, spend time with them, send cards or birthday gifts, or even bother to call.

Perhaps there is an important lesson to be garnered from these perspectives. Maybe our focus has been has been too much and too long on the idea of dads as payers of support. Maybe we have neglected what is most important to both mothers and fathers regarding his relationship with his children – the time they have together. And maybe, just maybe, if the courts, the bureaucrats, the psychoanalysts, the custody evaluators, the moms, the neighbors, the preachers, teachers, the media, and all the other name callers, – everyone - maybe if everybody who comments on the state of the family, would stop and think about what is really most important to the kids too – we would realize it’s the same thing.

What it all comes down to – “in the best interests of the children” – is how much time they can spend with their Dad. And if we all do our part just to help make it possible, and not to try to make it happen , perhaps a very surprising outcome would arise – dads wouldspend time with their kids, because they could, and no one was preventing it for a change. If we did that one little thing, perhaps we would find the phrase “deadbeat dad” as common in our language as “eight track tape” – we just wouldn’t need it any more.

The Thompson Law Office provides legal service to individuals and families relating to issues of divorce, child custody, child support aand other areas with the goal of preserving family bonds between children and both parents. Attorney Andrew J Thompson writes articles and speaks to audiences on issues of reconciliation within families in high conflict situations.

Valuing a Father’s Time with Children

By Andrew J Thompson
Thompson Law Office

Year after year, studies continue to show that children fare better the more time they spend with their fathers. Yet, fewer than 30% of single fathers have sole or joint physical custody of their minor children, and the remaining 70% typically have the children in their care less than 25% of the time. This seems to utterly defy the evidence.

Why?

While it is true that there are fathers who more or less disappear from the scene, on their own, more often it is due to factors they do not control, nor desire. The other factors that weigh against a father’s time with the children include:

1) archaic, standard parenting time schedules that do not take into account individual situations;
2) the continuing favor afforded to women in custody decisions, and then also in determining the balance of parenting time;
3) the ability of mothers, as custodial parents, to manipulate situations to inhibit parenting time as awarded to a father.

These factors, often combine to push fathers to conclude that it isn’t worth the continuing fight to have time with children who act as if they do not want to be with their father at all. Unfortunately, the psychological profession, which contributes so much to the chosen patterns of parenting time schedules, has done very, very little to help fathers work through the lose-lose situations they often face.

This needs to change. Because lawyers, mediators and judges rely so heavily on the opinions of psychology professionals, the lack of time children have with their fathers after divorce is not likely to change for the better until therapists determine to help create models for true family restoration.

It seems that men are not as easily molded into the mid- and post-treatment packages desired by the psych profession as are women and children, so they are left out to dry. Sadly, however, the ultimate suffering for the loss of connection with a father falls on the children themselves – as the studies reveal – and often, on their mother as well.

The lifetime emotional toll of divorce and separation is enough in and of itself. It’s time for the family courts, the bar, and the surrounding professionals to work together at avoiding deeper tragedies. All that is required is for noncustodial parents to be awarded greater equality in the split of parenting time, and to see that this time is enforced as clearly and zealously as is child support.

As soon as this change is made, we will begin to see more cooperation in divorce and custody matters, and more emotionally healthy children coming into adulthood.